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Saturday, June 14, 2014

PADRE MICKEY: Feast of Basil the Great

Feast of Basil the Great

Almighty God, you have revealed to your Church your eternal Being of glorious majesty and perfect love as one God in Trinity of Persons: Give us grace that, like your bishop Basil of Caesarea, we may continue steadfast in the confession of this faith, and constant in our worship of you, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.

Basil was born in the year 329, just a few years after the first Ecumenical Council held in Nicea from which came (eventually) the Nicene Creed. This is important because Basil would become one of the great defenders of orthodoxy against the Arian Heresy. His family was wealthy, well educated, and very devout Christians. His father was a lawyer and he was so devout that some people thought he was able to perform miracles. Basil's grandparents were converts and disciples of Gregory Thaumaturgus, the Wonder-worker, a disciple of Origen. They spent seven years in the woods of Pontus hiding during the Decian persecution, and their estate at Annesi on the Iris river had a chapel to forty martyrs. It must have been quite a household, for this family produced two bishops and the head of the first convent, and all three are considered saints by the Church.
Basil received a classical Greek education. He started in Caesarea, then studied under Libanius in Antioch, and, feeling restless, spent some time studying in Constantinople. Finally, he entered the University of Athens, studying under the best teachers of his time. He spent five years studying history, geometry, astronomy, poetics, and the classics. Athens was where he met his life-long friend Gregory of Nazianzus, another Cappadocian Father and future bishop. Another classmate was the future emperor, Julian. He returned to Cappadocia, having graduated from the best university in the world at that time, and took the seat of Rhetoric at the University of Caesarea. He enjoyed the academic life and oratory, and his sister, Macrina, accused him of being “puffed up beyond all measure with the pride of oratory” and complained that he thought he was better than anyone in town. He was always quoting the classics at her and showed absolutely no interest in following the Christian traditions of the family. Macrina was already preaching renunciation to the family, but Basil wasn't buying any of that! Then tragedy struck his family; his brother, Naucratius, who was the most handsome of the children, the most athletic, and the best scholar, and mom's favorite child, died suddenly. He was living at the family estate at Annesi, and had gone out fishing with a servant, and was brought home dead. Basil was overwhelmed by this event; he gave up his chair at the University and came to sit at his sister’s feet and learn of renunciation. Macrina was the source of solace in the family. She comforted her mother and brothers, and soon changed things around the house, having the slaves treated as equals and started talking about closing the house and moving to one of the other estates to found a religious community for women. This was the first monastery and the first monks were women, not men! Inspired by his sister’s example, Basil went to Egypt where he studied with the Anchorites. The Anchorites were hermits who lived lives of strict asceticism, living in the desert in caves and holes and little huts. They lived in communities but had no leader and tended to suffer from spiritual pride, believing that they were holier than everyone else. Basil spent a few months visiting Anchorites in Egypt, Syria, Palestine, and Mesopotamia, but he decided that the life of an Anchorite was undisciplined and lacking in humility. When Basil returned to Cappadocia, he was fired-up and wanted to start a community for men similar to the community for women Macrina had started at Annesi. He decided to found his community in Ibora, across the Iris river and facing Annesi. He invited his friend Gregory to come join him. His description of the place and the life they would live there sounds more like a great camping adventure than the monastic life: There is a high mountain very thickly wooded, watered toward the north with cool and transparent streams. Below the mountain lies a plain, richly watered by the mountain streams, skirted by a tremendous growth of trees thick enough to form a fence; and so, as you see, we live on an island more beautiful than the island of Calypso, which Homer thought to be the most beautiful on earth. Indeed, this is truly an island, enclosed on all sides and the earth dips away at the frontiers of the island; and the river, which flows from a mountain precipice, runs along one side, and is impassable as a wall; while the mountain, extending itself behind, and meeting the hollows in a crescent, stops up the path at its roots. There is but one pass, and I am the master of it. Gregory thought the place was cold and dark and full of thorns and he hated the little hut that he and Basil stayed in, and he hated the poor food; he and Basil almost broke their teeth on the homemade bread. Gregory left, but Basil was now convinced that the life of renunciation was the life for him. Taking his sister’s group as a model, he decided that it was better for monks to live under a rule of discipline: when and how much one should eat, rules deciding when and how often monks should pray, even rules on how many blankets one could have on one's bed. He developed the “Rule of Basil” which is still the model for monasteries of the Eastern Church. According to Gregory of Nazianzus, Basil wanted to take the best from his sister's system and the Anchorite system, "so that the contemplative life might not be cut off from society, nor the active life be uninfluenced by contemplation." 
There is more, thanks to Padre Mickey's Dance Party
http://padremickey.blogspot.com/2014/06/feast-of-basil-great.html

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